If HIV donors could themselves approach for transplantation it will make space in the transplant waiting list for everybody. In the landmark kidney transplant procedure conducted at Johns Hopkins Medicine, Nina Martinez became the first living HIV-positive donor to donate an organ to another HIV-positive recipient.
There already have been very positive outcomes when HIV-positive patients received HIV-negative organs, Johns Hopkins noted.
Dr. Christine Durand, another Johns Hopkins surgeon involved in the organ transplant, encouraged those living with HIV to sign their organ donor cards and contact their local transplant center if they're interested in living donation. Her recipient will remain anonymous.
Martinez and the recipient of her kidney will have to keep taking their anti-retroviral medication.
'Here's a disease that in the past was a death sentence and now has been so well controlled that it offers people with that disease an opportunity to save somebody else, ' said Dr Dorry Segev, a Hopkins surgeon who pushed for the HIV Organ Policy Equity, or HOPE, Act that lifted a 25-year United States ban on transplants between people with HIV.
Until now, only organs removed from dead HIV-positive patients were eligible for transplants to people with the virus.
But that changed in 2013 when the HIV Organ Policy Equity Act (HOPE) was signed into law, allowing HIV-positive individuals to receive transplants from HIV-positive donors.
Since 1988, doctors have transplanted at least 1,788 kidneys and 507 livers - both HIV-positive and HIV-negative organs - to patients with HIV, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing, a private nonprofit that manages the nation's organ transplant waiting list.
"Here's a disease that in the past was a death sentence and now has been so well controlled that it offers people with that disease an opportunity to save somebody else", said Segev, who pushed for the HIV Organ Policy Equity, or HOPE, Act that lifted a 25-year USA ban on transplants between people with HIV. One question is whether receiving an organ from someone with a different strain of HIV than their own poses any risks, but so far there have been no safety problems, said UNOS chief medical officer Dr. David Klassen.
"This is the first time someone living with HIV has been allowed to donate a kidney, ever, in the world", Dr Dorry Segev said in a release.
Before Martinez's operation, doctors thought that HIV patients are too much at risk of having kidney disease for them to even be considered as organ donors. HIV patients were previously discouraged from donating their kidneys because of the high risk factor.
"Somebody was waiting for a kidney who needed that kidney, and even though my kidney has HIV, this kidney saved their lives", she added.
Her friend died before tests were through, but Martinez chose to honor him by donating it to a stranger, who is also HIV-positive.
"For me it was just kind of an opportunity to be the same as anybody else", she said. I wanted to do something to jolt people's perceptions. It appears to be a success, as the recipient no longer needs dialysis treatment.
"When I take this recipient off the list, everyone moves up", she said, "whether they have HIV or not".
But, before she was cleared, her friend passed away.
"Losing somebody to both HIV and kidney disease was very hard, but my late friend was very excited to embark on this journey together", Martinez said Thursday. Other people living with HIV before me participated in clinical research so that I could not just survive but thrive.